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ANKENY — The three top 2018 Iowa candidates for governor were in the auditorium for Wednesday night’s debate, but only two were on stage.

Jake Porter, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, was not invited to participate in this month’s three gubernatorial debates despite gaining official party status — and with it a spot on the ballot — after the 2016 elections.

Porter, who garnered 7 percent in a recent Iowa Poll, said he was told by the various debate hosts — Iowa TV stations and newspapers — that he did not meet fundraising and polling bench marks established for candidates to participate in the debates.

KCCI-TV, which sponsored Wednesday’s debate with the Des Moines Register, did give Porter 15 minutes of airtime during a pre-event program that was taped on Monday to discuss his issue positions and make his case to Iowa voters in lieu of being allowed to join Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell on stage for the face-to-face meeting. Porter was given a ticket that got him into the venue at Des Moines Area Community College.

“We take whatever media coverage we can get,” Porter said of his taped interview in lieu of being a debate participant. “I think there’s a certain credibility factor that comes with being in those debates. I think it would have exposed Iowans to a lot of different ideas, and that’s the importance of the role of minor parties are often to bring up issues that are being ignored. It would have been nice to have been there to moderate the two and try to keep things in a positive direction.”

Porter, 30, a business consultant from Council Bluffs, said had he been allowed to participate he would have worked to keep the focus on solutions to problems facing Iowans rather than attack either opponent — a tone in TV commercials that he said unfortunately has marked much of the race so far.

“It would have been a positive message,” Porter said. “I would have not focused on either Fred or Kim. I would have focused on the positive issues.”

Porter said he would like to see the candidates focus on budget reforms, spending priorities and eliminating “corporate welfare” and leveling the playing field for all businesses. He also supports criminal justice reform, including substance abuse treatment rather than prison time for those who commit “victimless” crimes, and giving Iowans local control of schools and livestock confinements — issues that he believes affect their daily lives more than individual candidates’ tax returns or decisions made at Younkers department stores 30 years ago.

“This isn’t ‘Iowa nice,’” Porter said of the 2018 race. “This isn’t discussing the solutions, and that’s really what we need to be discussing is the solutions to the problems that Iowa faces.”

Porter has said he plans to attend each debate alongside supporters of his campaign. He said he believes Iowa’s law is being violated by excluding him from the televised debates and the coverage afforded to his major-party opponents amount to in-kind contributions to the Reynolds and Hubbell campaigns.

“They did not set any objective criteria,” Porter said in objecting to Wednesday’s debate. “If they would have set some type of reasonable criteria, they could at least say we’re keeping you out for this reason. But what they do is they set goal posts and they’ll just move the goal posts so it doesn’t matter how well we do. It just allows them to pick who they want to be the winners.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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